“Let’s look at the record” is a phrase commonly attributed to anti-fascist, anti-racist political firebrand Al Smith, the first Roman Catholic to mount a major party’s platform as candidate for president of the United States. That he was soundly beaten in the 1928 race by the unquestionably inferior Republican Herbert Hoover was undoubtedly compliments of Hoover’s deft political machine, one that made full use of the anti-Papist sentiment rife in the America of the twentieth century. But it is the phrase more than the man that endures, reminding us that political opinions occasionally need precedent, and facts always need to be checked.
When, enroute to Marine One, Donald Trump was asked by the press gaggle what was being done about the recent spate of mass shootings, and he replied, “We want to take the guns out of the hands of crazy, demented, sick people,” he should have looked at the record.
Shortly after taking office, Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that would have made it harder for people with mental illness to buy guns. Trump never explained why he nullified the regulation. He certainly failed to mention the most obvious reason for doing so, that the regulation was originally instituted by a man whose skin reflects slightly less sunlight than Trump’s, which is a stupid reason, of course, but widely believed and promoted by Trump, the Republican Party, and the vast majority of their voters.
But to now proclaim loudly and persistently that it is mental illness, and not guns, that is the root of the problem, Republicans in general and Trump in particular are now faced with three embarrassing questions. First, if it’s true that mental illness is the root problem in all these mass shootings, why did Republicans repeal the law that keeps guns out of the hands of the mentally ill? Second, why did Republicans strip $800 billion from Medicare, much-needed money earmarked for the treatment of mental illness? And third, why is the United States so peculiarly plagued by mental illness, when no other countries in the world are beset with chronic mass shootings?
“We have this so much better than it was 2 ½ years ago,” Trump insists. “This,” presumably is mass shootings. The message is, presumably, that they aren’t nearly as big a deal as they were when Trump took office. And he’s right, too, if you forget about the Virginia Beach Municipal Building shooting of May 31, 2019 (12 dead), or the Thousand Oaks Nightclub shooting of November 7, 2018 (12 dead), or the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting of October 27, 2018 (11 dead), or the Santa Fe High School shooting of May 18, 2018 (10 dead), or the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting of February 14, 2018 (17 dead), or the Texas First Baptist Church shooting of November 5, 2016 (26 dead), or the Las Vegas Strip shooting of October 1, 2017 (58 dead). Of course, that’s just mentioning the big ones. There were lots more smaller ones too. Lots more. That’s what happens when you look at the record.
When asked by the press gaggle if Trump had a message for young people who are worried about being murdered while peacefully seeking an education, Trump replied, “My message to young people is study real hard, and maybe someday they will grow up to be president of the United States.” I have a better message than that. In the course of your studies, young people, learn to look at and learn to understand the record. Then you will know what a toxic hypocrite and liar this president is, and wherever you end up, in whatever job – and all honest employment is good – you will never, ever be like him.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.